Viva Voce: What It Is & How To Prepare For It (I)

[anti-rclick]October 28, 2011

How should you prepare for it?

First of all, you should study your pieces one by one. To give some examples:

1) Know the background information: when it was composed, if it’s a dedication to anyone, what the composer had been going through or composing around that time etc.

2) Understand the genre: what kind of composition it is, any significance of such work among the genre, any similarities and oddities between this and other works of the same genre, etc.

3) Analyse the form and structure: what compositional form it uses, tonalities (tonal centers) and key changes, any special chords and their functions, the structure of the melodies/themes (motifs) etc. E.g. if it’s a fugue, you should be able to point out where the fugal subject is, its variations as well as the compositional techniques used for those variations.

These criteria are more on the specific side of each piece. You should mark out the different sections and tonalities on the score of each piece and study it well.

Other than the above specifics, you should also have some knowledge about the general music history/periods. For instance, if you are playing a work by Debussy, the examiners might ask, “can you name another contemporary composer of Debussy? And any works of that composer you might know of?” You should have information like this ready and prepared before going for the exam. Preparation for general information like this intrigues some students, as it seems to be quite vague and general. I would say, if a student is genuinely interested in learning about music/piano playing other than the three-four works they have been preparing for the exam, like listening to more recordings (you can find lots of good recordings on YouTube), reading more about the composers and their other (piano) works (you can read much about this on the internet as many are willing to share their knowledge and expertise for free), then it wouldn’t be that difficult to answer those questions posed by the examiners, who are only trying to understand if the candidate possesses certain musical knowledge enough to be awarded for the diploma certificate s/he desires.

For me, I never had any teacher who helped me with the viva voce before. I only studied on my own, reading about piano in specific and music in general, and analyzing the works in depth for better understanding of the music. However, I do try to help my students with this section, especially the younger ones, who have not been exposed much to the wondrous musical world/training yet. I would help them analyze each work in much detail and provide with them some reference books/reading materials/recordings etc. And as I always stress, you don’t just learn the music by playing, you learn by reading, listening and analyzing. The latter elements are absolutely essential for enhance your performance and musicality. You can always “practice” and study a piece away from the piano. And most of you, my students, should do much much more of that than you do now.

Until next post,

Teresa Wong

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